Editorial page

Friday, February 18, 2000

Challenging times for doctors

The NWT Medical Association's recent cry for help over the shortage of doctors shouldn't be taken lightly.

With the need for 26 general practitioners in the Yellowknife region alone, we can sympathize with the 14 doctors now working around the clock to service the region. Working an average of 70 hours a week, there's no doubt these medics are burning out fast. Worse, 12 long-term doctors have left the North in the past two years.

This not only puts an extraordinary pressure on the doctors we have, but nurses and all other workers in the field are scrambling to pick up the slack.

Although the NWT situation is largely due to a national shortage -- with fewer students enrolling in medical school and the fact those who do graduate in Canada are heading to the United States for bigger bucks -- the lack of incentive and inequities in fee negotiations add to the problems. Some health boards pay more and offer different benefits. Many doctors find the high cost of living in the North isn't worth it, especially when up to 40 per cent of their wages go back to the clinic to cover overhead.

The president of the NWT Medical Association, Dr. David King couldn't have said it better when he told Yellowknifer, "You've got to admit that with the competition out there, if you find you can get just as good a deal without having to walk around at -40 you're going to go for it."

The recent commitment by the department of health to work with the NWT Medical Association and the health boards on a new recruitment and pay strategy is commendable. While it seems a miracle is needed both nationally and locally to solve the problem, we in the North have one advantage -- our quality of care.

Our smaller population, lack of waiting lists, and immediate access to specialists is something our health care workers should be proud of. Let's hope the government keeps this in mind when it comes time for the budget.

Stress testing

The theme for this year's Mental Health week was Daily Stress: It can knock you off your balance.

Stress is a word we throw around now far to often -- even our children are using it.

A recent survey revealed that 50 per cent of all Canadians suffer what they described as "overwhelming stress" in their daily lives.

One has to wonder just where did all this stress come from? Sixty-odd years ago Canadian soldiers were up to their knees in blood and mud fighting a war. Now we get stressed out pushing paper and pencils -- we have to wonder what is happening to the human race.

Perhaps 10 years from now, we won't be able to get out of bed without getting "stressed out."

Capacity to care

The voice of compassion prevailed at city council Monday night and a proposed group home on Finlayson Drive was given permission to operate.

The purpose of this group home is to provide a place for young people who have been taken out of their homes for their safety or because the family has fractured.

Surely a measure of our society is our capacity to care for those who find themselves in danger or threatened by their circumstances. Group homes can be a first step in reclaiming kids from the fringes of society.

The only debates around group homes should be "Do we have enough of them?" and "Is there more we can do?"

Editorial Comment
Daniel MacIsaac
Inuvik Drum

It was a pleasure to attend the surprise ceremony honouring the accomplishments of Aklavik elder Alex Gordon on Saturday afternoon. Alex was nominated by Diane Archie of the National Inuit Youth Council for his contributions to the community, particularly with regard to working with youth and drum-dancing.

Wheelchair-bound and without much speech following a stroke last fall, Gordon nevertheless clearly enjoyed the proceedings. His wife, Hope, was at his side and he was surrounded by his children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Asked if he'd like a drum-dance or a sing-along, Gordon chose the latter and kept time and joined in as his family and friends serenaded him with song after song.

The event was truly touching and served as the perfect example of giving back to those who give of themselves.

Good sports

The conclusion of the recent territorial Arctic Winter Games trials hasn't marked an end to local sports activity, in fact, it's quite the opposite.

There are more games, tournaments and trials going on than one can shake a stick at. Participants range from pint-sized peewee hockey players and figure skaters to wily veteran darts throwers and curlers.

More power to you as you battle your way to personal glory and do your bit for your team and community.

It's difficult to pick individuals among the multitude of volunteers who help make these sports available, but Geoff Buerger should be given his due. New to his post of vice-principal at Samuel Hearne high school, Buerger help kick-start the girls basketball program and started up the school's debating club, which faces its first real competition later this month.

Charting a course

Good luck must also be wished to all those from the Beaufort Delta who are participating in the upcoming millennium water relay and to Aurora College and Julian Tomlinson as the Frozen Toes group heads out to Iqaluit -- the hard way.

One doesn't have to have lived long in the North to realize just how little the rest of Canada knows about this part of the world. Even national CBC radio and television personalities are as guilty as the rest when it comes to stereotyping or ignoring the Arctic.

However, people say the Internet is all about making the world a smaller place. Hopefully, news of both the relay and the Nunavut expedition reaches the south and makes Canadians realize they truly are living in a country that stretches from sea to sea, to sea.

Memorable moments
Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

Sometimes chance meetings can leave a indelible mark in our memories. Such was the case for me on Wednesday when I was travelling from Fort Simpson to Fort Providence.

As I rounded a bend, about 20 kilometres from Fort Providence, I saw somebody riding a bicycle on the clear but cold day. It was a highly unusual sight considering the conditions were somewhere in the range of -25 C. I turned the truck around, intent on getting a picture for the newspaper. I figured there must be somebody who occasionally travels from Fort Providence to Kakisa, the nearest community, by bicycle. It turns out my assumption was way off the mark.

The man on the bike was Nobuhiko Kawaguchi, a Japanese tourist. It became apparent that he was not fluent in English, and I don't speak any Japanese. After several minutes of pronounced gestures and speaking slowly, I was able to ascertain that he was cycling from Yellowknife, where he departed on Jan. 30, all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, a distance of over 3,000 kilometres using the highway system. That's mind boggling, even in the summertime. Yet here was a man, who appeared to be in his mid-20s, braving the elements of winter to make a trek that he would be able to tell his grandchildren about -- should he live to tell. When I approached him, he had a chunk of ice frozen into his eyelashes.

So I asked him if I could take his picture for the newspaper. He was agreeable, and as I pulled out my camera he immediately recognized the Pentax brandname.

"Yes," I replied. "They're good cameras."

There was so much more that I wanted to ask him, but the cold temperature caused my pen to freeze (I've always meant to stick a pencil in my camera bag, but I just never get around to it). The language barrier was also an obstacle. I sensed that he wanted to be getting on his way, and I had business to tend to as well.

I gave him my address and showed him where Fort Simpson was located on his map. If he decided to pass through, he was welcome to stay, I told him.

Over the next two days I thought of him and his arduous journey frequently. I told everybody I met about him, wondering if they too had happened to encounter him in their travels. One person told me some motorists had noticed his bicycle and a pup tent on the side of the road as he bunked down for the night. Most hadn't heard of him, and only shook their heads in disbelief when I related the details. Some asked whether he was doing it as a charitable act to raise money for a cause. I can't answer that for sure, but when we met on the highway, he never pulled out a sponsor sheet or asked for any sort of donation.

As I drove back to Fort Simpson on Friday, I kept an eye out for him. The road conditions were slick in some spots and heavily sanded in others. Although the sand provides needed traction for vehicles, it would be choking to someone on a bicycle as drivers speed by, kicking up a cloud of dust.

I thought of how mentally disciplined Kawaguchi must be, not only to motivate himself to pedal a hundred kilometres or more each day, but to live in relative isolation in a cold, harsh, foreign climate for weeks, with many more to go.

It's Tuesday as I write this. Kawaguchi has yet to appear in Fort Simpson. Perhaps he never will. Either way, I won't forget the adventurous spirit I encountered on that day near Fort Providence.

Finding the right mix
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

The fact some feelings were hurt at an educational meeting in Arviat earlier this month shows us just how difficult merging two cultures truly is.

Even though, by all accounts, former NTI president and meeting facilitator Jose Kusugak warned the gathering he was deliberately using stereotypical examples to prompt debate, his remarks reportedly struck a few nerves.

It is our understanding the most contentious of the remarks revolved around the different parenting approaches employed by Inuit and non-Inuit families.

Hurt feelings aside, the examples used by the facilitator during these meetings are not the problem.

The problem lies in the fact human beings, by nature, are quick to believe their way is the right way. Period.

This inherent human characteristic could well prove itself as one of the most difficult problems to overcome in the Nunavut government's Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit culture) initiative.

What our educators and policymakers must do -- regardless of what they see when they look at one another -- is focus on combining the best facets of Inuit culture and beliefs with those of a European-styled educational system.

This is a tricky pendulum which can easily swing too far left or right.

The classroom needs of all Inuit children -- of all children -- must be addressed.

Cultural preservation is really a non-issue here as all involved with Nunavut's curriculum development process are in agreement with its necessity in our school system.

What we need to find is the right mix of the past, present and future.

The past in the historical sense of who the Inuit are, where they come from and what they stand for.

The present in the teaching of skills necessary for a Northern lifestyle and readily available to those who want to retain strong links to traditional means of subsistence.

The economic benefit of hunting, fishing and trapping is immense to those of us who call Nunavut home.

The future must also be made readily available to our students if they're to become our leaders of tomorrow.

The merits of maintaining syllabics, for example, must be weighed against the time and cost of instruction, their benefits to Inuit society and what other options these valuable resources could be used for.

There are no easy answers. There never are for such monumental and complex issues.

However, if those choosing our ultimate educational direction remain blinded by the light of their own path, the journey will be far longer and less fruitful than what we should be striving for.